Television Network News

The first Canadian television network news program was born late in 1952, at the CBC. It consisted of three or four minutes of news read by Gil Christie at the top of a newsmagazine show, called Tabloid, which initially linked the Toronto and Montreal stations each evening at 7 pm.

It was not until a year later that an actual CBC National Television News management was established and a 15 minutes newscast at 6:45 pm was put into operation, read by Larry Henderson.

Its first network correspondents were actually freelance cameramen who received a promise of payment for interesting stories whose pictures would be shown as the newsreader explained the story.

Canadian television news reporter pioneers included such names as Michael Maclear, Morley Safer, Peter Reilly, Tom Earle, Norman DePoe, Bill Cunningham and Tom Gould in English, and Judith Jasmin in Quebec.

Eventually, the CBC National News became a fixture in broadcasting at 11pm until 1982, when it was decided to move that newscast to 10pm local time, and with the additional of a newsmagazine segment, was scheduled for one hour nightly. In 1992 the CBC experimented by scheduling The National at 9:00pm, but lower ratings compelled the program to revert to its 10:00pm time period in 1993.

Simultaneously with the start of CBC television in English in Toronto, Montreal gave birth to a bilingual TV station. It was not until two years later that CBMT, the Montreal English CBC station was created and CBFT became uniquely French.

During the ’50s, CBC French television stations were opened in Ottawa and a number of Quebec communities and the resulting network was considered very “Montreal centred”, with very little time actually devoted to news.

The Telejournal nightly French network newscast moved about a bit in the early stages, to settle in at 7:15 in the evening in 1955, to be moved subsequently to 11 pm and in later years, to a 10 pm time slot.

Unlike English CBC, which had separate radio and TV news services, the French market was not seen as being large enough to support separate systems. For many years, radio and TV news personnel at French CBC were intertwined.

It wasn’t until 1957 that the French service had as its base two daily telecasts.

Until 1960, the practice of one TV station per city was the rule as laid down by the CBC. The newly established Board of Broadcast Governors changed that by authorizing second stations in eight of Canada’s largest cities

The first private television stations in Canada were licensed in 1960. It was not until the Fall of 1962 that the first CTV Network news program hit the airwaves, initially at 10:30 pm in an effort to avoid going up against the CBC National News. However within a year, it moved to the 11 pm time slot where it continues today. Starting as a l5-minute broadcast, it added an additional five minutes with the time change and expanded to 30 minutes in 1988.

The first CTV NEWS telecasts originated in Ottawa for the first few years and then moved to Toronto. Anchors were newspapermen converted to broadcasting, Peter Stursberg and Charles Lynch. Baden Langton and Peter Jennings eventually replaced them. They both moved to American networks. Then came Ab Douglas, Larry Henderson and Harvey Kirck. Kirck was alone in the chair from 1963 to 1976 when Lloyd Robertson, who had left the CBC, joined him as co-anchor. Kirck withdrew in 1987 and Robertson carried on as the principal anchor at CTV NEWS.

It was with the arrival of Harvey Kirck that CTV NEWS began developing its own reporters and correspondents, while still relying heavily on the news personnel from its affiliated stations. Henry Champ was CTV’s first reporter in Quebec, based in Montreal in the early ’60s. and later in Washington.

Bruce Philips became its first national correspondent in Ottawa. Unlike his CBC counterparts, Philips did not have his own cameraman and relied on the local station, CJOH. There’s a story of Philips even buying film from Geoff Scott, then the correspondent for CHCH Hamilton, in order to beat the CBC, and Philips had to pay for it out of his own pocket.

In the drive to provide a Canadian perspective on news from beyond our borders, the CBC was first to have regular staff based in London and Washington and in Paris for the French side of the Corporation. CTV was quick to follow. CTV was the first North American network to open a bureau in Beijing, in 1979, six years after a visit there by Prime Minister Trudeau. With the Cold War at its peak, Moscow was next. (audio below).

Initially, the reports from outside the country tended to be more analytical and provided background to stories as the video reports had to be sent by airplane, and could not arrive in a timely manner to compete with breaking news reports available from radio.

When satellite feeds became a fact of life, less perspective and more “episodic” reporting or event coverage by Canadians for Canadians took place. As time went by, both networks strived to balance a mix of event coverage and perspective (audio below).

At the height of competition between CBC and CTV, bureaux were opened in such places as Hong Kong, Mexico City, New Delhi and Buenos Aires. These were all expensive, and with time, both networks retrenched, and as some bureaux were closed, the Canadian networks began to rely on US network video and in some cases, free-lance reporters, in those far away places who would tailor their reports, sometimes with only the sign-off to indicate they were reporting for the Canadian operation. (audio below).

The Vietnam War saw a temporary reversal of the trend to cut back Canadian reporters assigned to posts abroad. Joe Schlesinger, Michael McClear and Henry Champ were among the more notable Canadian reporters overseas during that period.

CTV’s Clark Todd, who had been a radio reporter in Newfoundland and Montreal before shifting to television, was a casualty of war in Lebanon in 1983. (audio below).

Regional services evolved early in British Columbia, Alberta, and Atlantic Canada. BCTV had dozens of repeaters throughout the Pacific-coast province and created a semi-National news broadcast with Tony Parsons that was also seen in part of Alberta, and in Hamilton (because the stations were all under the same ownership at that time); CFRN developed a system to serve Northern Alberta whereby there was a position within the newscast originating in Edmonton for their regional bureaus in Grand Prairie, Fort McMurray and Red Deer to drop in their local news and the CHUM group gave rise to the ATV network, which served three provinces.

In French Canada, with a smaller market, French network television came from the CBC (Radio Canada) and eventually, with competition from Montreal’s Télémetropole which eventually created the TVA network for news.

In 1986, Télévision Quatre Saisons (TQS) also set up a regional network, based in Montreal, with a few local stations in the province of Quebec.

Global television had its beginnings as a Southern Ontario Network and grew with the accumulation of the ownership of independent stations by Can-West Broadcasting, owned by one-time Manitoba politician Izzy Asper. As the number of stations increased, he added an Ottawa bureau. With the acquisition of stations in Atlantic Canada and in British Columbia, Global launched a National newscast, originating in Vancouver.

To counter the trend in Canadian broadcasting, or to emulate the American networks, the Global National airs in the early evening.

Whether it was the insatiable appetite of Canadians for news, or a desire to do what was being done south of the border, in 1995, the CRTC licensed four cable news networks, first CBC Newsworld and Reseau d’Information, and then CTV Newsnet and TVA’s French news service. While they had some personnel exclusively for these networks, they depended to a great deal on the base of their primary news operations.

The cable networks, by virtue of their mandates, can and do provide more extended coverage of events, as warranted, compared to the over-the-air networks. To some extent, they have displaced traditional broadcasters in the creation of “specials”, extended news programming that used to interrupt the regular schedule of entertainment programming.

While the importance of network facilities and services cannot be understated, the strength and popular appeal of a local station, serving its community, remains the bulwark of broadcasting. In some areas, radio and/or local TV are the sole providers of information that not only informs, but also is used in good times and bad to unite people with common interests.

Whether the local stations report on the country fair or the rising river and floods, when they are the prime source for news about local police and fire or even the birth of a new neighbour, dozens of individual reporters and editors work earnestly at their craft. It may sound like a cliché, but broadcasters have been the eyes and ears of the public, and the public has never been better informed of the events and issues that affect the daily lives of Canadians.

Broadcasters have also served as a uniting force in the communities in which they live.

In both good times and bad times, electronic media have been in the forefront of newsgathering. Canadian broadcast journalists stand tall among their peers around the world, with a reputation that is second to none.

Sidney Margles – February, 2005

Audio Clips:

1 Tim Kotcheff talks about flying footage back from Europe to meet deadlines, and the economics of getting local stories on national news programs

2 Tim Kotcheff talks about the improvement in reporters’ skills

3 Tim Kotcheff talks about the need for Canadians to hear foreign news from a Canadian perspective

4 Tim Kotcheff talks about the impact on morale of having a reporter killed in the field